The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by KJ Charles is a male/male historical romance set in Regency England in Romney Marsh in Kent, an area known for its culture of smuggling. Gareth Inglis, raised by his distant uncle and saddled with a bullying cousin, inherits a baronetcy and a house in the small town of Dymchurch from his estranged and selfish father. Unexpectedly, after his arrival he encounters a lover from a few anonymous but intense encounters in London. Joss Doomsday, along with his powerful mother, is the “gaffer” of the local smugglers and his duties in that role are almost immediately at odds with Gareth’s “outmarsh” ideas. When Gareth begins to follow in his father’s footsteps as a naturalist, he becomes embroiled in a mystery and must find ways to work with Joss to protect his half-sister and his own reputation from serious threats. Meanwhile Joss, while still being a caretaker for all, struggles to balance his uncle’s increasing bad behavior and his mother’s reluctance to chastise her brother as needed. The plethora of realistic conflict made this book a page-turner to the very end. My favorite secondary character was Joss’ grandfather, a former enslaved man who’d escaped Georgia; he is a conduit of local information, a steadying influence, and a valuable advisor at critical moments. Warning for some child abuse, mostly off-screen, that is not addressed by the characters as quickly as it should have been.
Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai is contemporary fantasy romance featuring a Chinese near-immortal, Elle, and a half-fae Frenchman, Luc, who both work for a mysterious and powerful supernatural agency. It’s got many Xianxia (Chinese “immortal heroes” fantasy) vibes. After traumatic events with her family, for which Elle feels responsible, she’s in hiding, which means concealing the true extent of her power as a descendant of a god of medicine. Luc is concealing the reasons he continues to work for the domineering head of their agency as a fixer and sometimes assassin. Of course, Elle and Luc fall in love, but their conflicting responsibilities and the true selves they hide from each other add a lot of excellent tension, resulting in difficult but ultimately satisfying decisions. There’s a lot of fun banter and some side characters I’d love to see again. Warning for some instances of magical coercion.
Pretty Ring Time: Matches Making by L.A. Hall is nineteenth in the “Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle” series and was another soothing visit with old friends, some of whom have intriguing new acquaintances. I believe we have now reached 1851 in their timeline, given that various characters reference the Great Exhibition. I would recommend starting at the beginning of this series, The Comfortable Courtesan, which is set in Regency London, to get the most out of these stories, as the current “Circle” stories feature children and grandchildren as well as the initial characters.
The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray includes almost all of Jane Austen’s married couples at a house party where George Wickham shows up and gets himself murdered. Gray has given the completed Austen novels a reasonable chronology so the couples are spaced out in age and time of life; Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon are the most newly-married, while Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett have been married for over twenty years. Gray constructs connections between all of them, some close and some more distant. Original characters are the detectives: Jonathan Darcy, eldest son attending with his parents, and Juliet Tilney, who’s attending her first house party alone, which means that Austen’s canonical characters are the suspects. Gray ramps up the conflict between Wickham and the Darcys, and adds motives for the rest by extrapolating Wickham’s seducing ways and adding in blackmail and a plausible fraudulent investment scheme. I am not sure if anyone has fanfictionally murdered Mr. Wickham before, but it’s a great idea and I was entertained, more by the canonical couple dynamics than the mystery itself. As for the original characters, Juliet is an ingenue who privately questions constraints upon a young woman’s behavior as part of her strong sense of right and wrong. She was realistically spunky and I loved her. Jonathan is clearly portrayed as a person with autism, though I felt the traits he exhibited (good at numbers, overwhelmed by crowds, socially rigid) were in my opinion a bit stereotypical and hammered in in relation to the rest of his characterization; note the author does not have autism but did employ a sensitivity reader. Jonathan’s perspective made a terrific foil and complement to Juliet’s; I would have liked more of Jonathan’s dialogue and investigations with Juliet. I am assuming the book is intended as a possible series opener [ETA: confirmed!], and am curious if the next murder victim would be a canonical character or not. ETA: I’m expecting the second book will expand the roles of the original characters.
My April TBR Challenge book was Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark.
Otherwise in April, I read some fanfiction but did not make notes on any of it.